In 2014, Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing veered off the usual flight path before disappearing into the Indian Ocean. Four years later and we still don’t know where it landed, what happened to its remains and the 239 passengers on board, or until now, what caused it to make the detour in the first place.
On Monday, Malaysian investigators released a 495-page report into the tragedy, initially dubbed the “final report”, revealing it was extremely likely the plane (a Boeing 777) had been manually manipulated to divert from the pre-planned route on March 8, 2014. They still do not know who was responsible.
“The turn back could not be attributed to an anomalous system,” Dr Kok Soo Chon, the investigator in charge of the investigation, told an audience at a press conference in Putrajaya.
"It has been established that the air turn back was done under manual control, not autopilot."
Up until this point, the official theory given was that the plane had crashed in an "unresponsive crew/hypoxia event". Experts believed Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot, had been unconscious in the hours leading up to the incident, the Guardian reported in March. The plane continued to function on autopilot before it ran out of fuel and plunged into the ocean.
The new report complicates the theory that the plane was on autopilot. It also runs in contrast to other theories that suggest a mechanical or computer malfunction is to blame. And while the investigators say they cannot dismiss "unlawful interference by a third party", they have also said they do not suspect the pilot or first officer of concocting a suicide mission in a similar vein to the Germanwings incident in 2015.
“We have examined the pilot and the first officer and we are quite satisfied with their background, with their training, with their mental health,” Kok added.
“We are not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot.”
While he was quick to say he was not ruling it out, Kok did say two psychiatrists had examined the audio recordings and CCTV footage of the pilot before the crash and found no evidence of anxiety or stress. Background checks on all the passengers also came back showing a clean bill of health.
Which all seems to suggest the report does more to dismiss certain theories than it does to provide some sort of conclusion to the mystery. Kok told reporters, the only way it can be solved is if the wreckage is found and that seems unlikely – so far, only three wing fragments found on the Indian Ocean coast are definitely from the aircraft, Reuters reports.
What we do know is that flight MH370 made satellite contact seven times in the six hours after the plane left radar screens, the final time suggests the plane's location was near the Australian coast in the South Indian Ocean. The very last thing heard from the flight is a goodnight message from the pilot. ("Good night, Malaysian three seven zero.”) We now also know that the flight's four emergency locator transmitters malfunctioned so that they did not trigger signals that may have helped locate the Boeing 777.
According to Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, the search will not be continued unless new evidence is found.